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Diversity in customer experience hinges on root-cause analysis

Sandra Mathis and Stephanie C. Harris discuss diversity and inclusion, and the necessity of addressing them at an internal level before customers see change.

Diversity and inclusion touch both the employee and customer experience, and it's essential that businesses today address these issues.

As Black Lives Matter protests continue throughout the U.S., the discussion of equality has emerged in every facet of life -- work, school and home. But for businesses, it goes beyond making a simple diversity statement, said Stephanie C. Harris, a market research and consumer insights professional based in Georgia. Businesses need to address the problem from the inside out -- starting internally with employees to create an inclusive culture with a trickle-down effect to the customers.

Conducting this root-cause analysis will enable businesses to get to the core of their biases and put forth meaningful change, said Sandra Mathis, a Georgia-based customer experience and user experience strategist for HCL Technologies, an IT service and consulting company.

Here, Mathis and Harris discuss their experiences and tips that can help companies to be more diverse and inclusive.

Editor's note: This Q&A has been edited for conciseness and clarity.

Have you had a negative customer experience with a business because they weren't diverse and inclusive?

Sandra MathisSandra Mathis

Sandra Mathis: One of two things has happened. When you walk into a store, you know they're not used to seeing a Black person. So, they either don't really acknowledge you, or they're over-engaged and following you around every step of the way. Are you trying to make sure I'm not going to do something inappropriate in the store? Do you think I'm someone who might steal? When I have an experience like that, I tend to block it out and never go back to that store again. 

Stephanie C. Harris: That's the prime example that you hear all the time -- and I've had it happen to me on numerous occasions. If the company isn't paying attention to how racial bias is embedded within not only the corporate culture, but also the individual sales rep level, those things can really be a problem.

Stephanie C. HarrisStephanie C. Harris

We're at a critical turning point in our society, so diversity, equality and inclusion all have to be addressed now. It's not just at the corporate level, but we have to look at the customer-facing roles and make sure that the whole company is under scrutiny.

Employees are a business's first customer. What can businesses do on an employee level to ensure there's a pool of diverse talent and that they are practicing equality and inclusion?

Mathis: Until you start to get to some root cause of understanding, it's hard to make a full change. First, see what your employee data says. Where do your employees historically come from? Where did you bring them in from? Maybe you've recruited at your schools or companies that you've worked at to bring in new talent, but perhaps there's other people who were appropriate that were never adequately given a chance. Figure out what your employee base is made of -- everything from gender, where they went to school and education level. And maybe do some sort of personality assessment of your team members.

Until you start to get to some root cause of understanding, it's hard to make a full change.
Sandra MathisCustomer experience/user experience strategist, HCL Technologies

Harris: You've got to start implementing diversity programs and understand where the bias is coming from. It is something that you can really train your staff on, and you should be trying to train your staff to at least be aware of the different types of bias.

You need to be looking at … what you're doing in terms of tracking staff engagement and gauging if the staff is happy with the company when looking at turnover. You need to look at the differences among the various ethnic groups to see if there are differences in their perspective, making sure your hiring practices, your promotion practices and your performance evaluations are equal. Make sure that people can provide feedback and that actions are taken. When you empower your employees to make decisions and they see things are balanced, those things trickle down into retail outlets and salespeople.

What are some things that businesses can do to address cultural diversity and inclusion and level the playing field on a customer level?

Mathis: I think about this when RFPs [requests for proposals] are going out. Maybe set a goal, that for every five RFPs, for example, maybe one of those goes to an organization that's a bit smaller or a business of color or women. Don't automatically shut them out. They may be looking for that potential break.

Harris: Businesses have diverse customers and need to really understand who their customers are, developing and producing products for the right audience. They need to recruit enough people in the research to be representative and get adequate feedback. When you're doing market research, your surveys and focus groups need to have the right people. And if you're targeting specific ethnic groups, you need to make sure those surveys are asking questions in such a way that is not offensive to them. There needs to be a multicultural agency helping you to make sure you're asking culturally appropriate questions, and maybe you have a Spanish-speaking moderator to talk to Hispanic people.

Do you think there are words in the business world that we should nix from our vocabulary to be more inclusive, recognize diversity and ultimately improve the customer experience?

Mathis: That's a tricky one. I try to be very cautious. I don't like 'they' or 'them,' because I don't know who 'they' are, and I might be a part of that equation. If it's a team, then say that. That's the functional team. That's the product team. Be specific.

Financial services are getting away from using words like 'blacklist' and using 'fraudster' instead. It's a catchall for everything, including fraudulent activity and someone who may have done something inappropriate in the past.

Harris: Maybe the master drive and the slave drive need to be reevaluated. It is just a matter of being sensitive to how they're playing out and really looking at how people are reacting to them.

There are some ways in which words do create hostility or microaggressions within an organization. When you hear things like, 'She's being very emotional.' Would you say that about a guy? But if you say, 'She is aggressive and ambitious,' that's a bad thing for a female but it's OK for a guy. So when you start to take the words and use them in such a way that they're negative for one group but positive for another group, we need to be cognizant of the words and how we use them.

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